It's been a long day and you're frazzled, so you place your fussy toddler in front of the TV to get an hour or two of peace. Sound familiar? You're not alone. Recent studies have shown that most children ages 2 and up typically watch more than 10 hours of TV a week, a far cry from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation of one hour a day for this age group.
So now in addition to your diaper bag, you may be carrying around some guilt. Don't -- there are a lot of things you can do to lessen your family's TV time. The key is to start simple and set a goal, like watching only two shows a day.
Here, some creative tips and time-fillers to make the transition easier.
How much TV is your family really watching? "Keeping track of your child's screen time will give you a better idea of where you stand. This includes TV and videos -- all of it can really add up," says Frank Vespe, executive director of the TV-Turnoff Network, a nonprofit agency devoted to public awareness. Pick one day and keep a log. The results may surprise you.
"Make an appointment to watch TV. Don't just view it randomly," says Donald Shifrin, MD, pediatrician, and chair of the AAP committee on communications. Sit down and map out which shows you truly want your kids to watch -- and stick to that schedule.
"This really sets the stage for developing good viewing habits later on," he says.
Research shows that kids watch more television when it's located in the middle of the room, so stow your set in a corner or close the doors on the entertainment center when it's not on.
Studies show that 50 percent of people leave their television on all the time, whether they are watching or not.
"Many parents use television as background noise,' says Dr. Shifrin. "Leaving the TV on like that just invites overuse," he says. Instead, opt for the radio or a favorite CD.
Forbid television during certain times. Begin modestly, like banning TV during mealtimes. While you may be met with resistance, kids this age can easily adapt. "I was surprised at how quickly my daughter, Eleni, found other things to do," says Laura Broadwell, a mother from Brooklyn, New York.
Invite your toddler to grab some crayons and her favorite coloring book, plan a story hour, or play interactive games like duck, duck, goose.
Hiding a few toys can quickly make them new again. "When my 2-year-old daughter, Sasha, gets restless, I just pull out some things I've hidden. She's entertained and I get some TV-free time," says Dorre Kleinman, a mom from Brooklyn, New York.
Spend some moments teaching your toddler about letters. Choose a "Letter of the Day" and have your child learn new words that begin with that letter. "I do this with my 16-month-old son and he loves it!" says Teresa Martin, a mother from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Toddlers can be enthusiastic helpers, so try to involve them in whatever you're doing. Ask your child to help you cook or clean. Give her a brush to wash veggies or a rag to help dust.
Most toddlers love tunes. "Songs like 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' are a great way to help your baby learn the patterns of language," says Jean Crawford, director of PBS Parents. "Songs also help baby hear the small differences in sounds, a skill he'll need when he learns to read."